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What Does MIA Mean

What Does MIA Mean

Whether you were reading a news article online or you saw its references in a movie somewhere, chances are you have heard the initials MIA together before. However, unless you have some prior knowledge, you might wonder what does MIA mean? Well, unless you are talking about the Massachusetts Institute of Art or other variation, more likely than not it means missing in action. Traditionally, the MIA definition of missing in action is in reference to a member of the armed forces who has gone unaccountable while serving in an active military campaign. In order to truly understand the meaning of MIA, you need to have a bit of history on the topic and how it has come to mean what it does mean.

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What Does MIA Mean?

First, it is important to understand that MIA is different from AWOL. This is another military term that means absent without leave. Essentially, it means someone left their post or is unaccounted for on the base. This person is not necessarily in a combat situation, but they simply leave, for whatever reason. Missing in action, on the other hand, is actually a casualty classification in the armed forces that only takes place during wartime. The soldier might be killed, wounded, a prisoner of war or they might have deserted. Essentially, nobody really knows what exactly happened to the individual. There are still many soldiers who were considered MIA during previous wars, such as World War I or World War II, simply because nobody every positively made an identification on their body.

When asking what does MIA mean in texting, it basically means someone is not accounted for. If a group of friends are out and it is not possible to locate another friend, regardless of how many phone calls or texts are placed, the person is MIA. It has the same general meaning as the MIA meaning in wartime. Over the years though, militaries from across the globe have tried to at least improve the positive identification of soldiers, in the event they are lost or killed.


Before 1912, soldiers in the vast majority of countries were not required to wear any sort of identification, outside of perhaps their rank. Due to this, it proved difficult to ever identify the body, especially if some time passed between the time of death and the time of discovery. During the First World War, the use of an ID tags started to become much more universal. Countries usually made a lightweight material that the nation didn’t really need for the wartime effort. However, even during WWI, many of the ID tags were lost, or the tags did not stand up against high heat, so in the event of an explosion or fire, the tag did not survive. By WWII, countries started to use a higher grade of material, helping it survive explosions and other exposure to high temperatures.

The use of ID tags did not completely stop soldiers from being listed as missing in action. In World War II alone, almost 79,000 American soldiers were reported missing in action, which represents 19 percent of all the soldiers killed for the United Sates. Since the end of the Second World War though, technology has improved to be able to identify bodies and locate missing soldiers. While soldiers still went MIA, especially during Korea and Vietnam, but since then, soldiers now have their DNA sampled before going into combat, so in the event of an explosion or other high-temperature related situation, it is possible to identify the individual through analyzing the remains. As a bit of interesting information, the military also classifies military animals as missing in action, should the animal come up missing and unaccounted for.

MIA in Daily Life

Now, when it comes down to what does MIA mean in English, it is very important to understand that the term is always going to mean missing in action, but it is often going to mean something different for the people who are using the term. First off, if an employer is using the term MIA, it probably means that one of the workers is not accounted for and they have not shown up for their job yet. Of course, this is likely to lead to a firing, depending on the situation, but basically it just means the person is not at their desk, not necessarily that they cannot be located. From here, as it has already been discussed is, friends might use the term when describing another friend who they are not able to locate. This might just be for a few hours or for a week or two, but chances are, if one of the friends went to their house or called up their work, they could track them down. It is basically just stating the person is being difficult to reach, not that they have gone missing and that it simply is not going to be possible to track them down.

When it comes to what does MIA mean, there are different instances where someone might use the phrase, even though the person is right there. Often times, when watching a sporting event, a commentator might say one of the athletes is missing in action, even though they are right there on the television screen and you can see them in front of you. When the commentator stays this, it is because the athlete is not living up to their expectations or their overall ability, and so they basically are disappearing into the game and allowing other members of the team (or the other team) to take over. This is one of the times where missing in action is more of a put down towards the athlete, but it does not mean that the player is actually physically missing.

There are many different times where someone might use the phrase missing in action. When this happens, you need to know what it is in reference to so you can obtain the full understanding of the meaning and how they are saying it. If it is in reference to a military situation, it is because a soldier or other member of the armed forces is missing and they are not able to find them. It might be because they have been captured, they have died and the body has not been located yet, or a large number of other possibilities. Beyond this, friends might say it in reference to another friend, and employer might say it in reference to one of the workers, or even someone talking about a sporting event might say it. Ultimately, there are all sorts of different times where someone might use the phrase in order to describe the situation. However, it is very important to know that the three letters MIA came from the military and this is where it started. There are many times where a word or phrase comes from the military initially and then moves on from there. All of this is important to consider and to look into, so the next time you use it in common speech, you know what it actually means and where it comes from. This should also help you use the term correctly.

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1 Comment

  • Mia Joyce
    Sep 18, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Nice. So honoured to have made an everlasting impact on society.

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